Friday, March 25, 2016

Navigation – Finding your way on a Self-Fly Safari®

Getting where you want to go is key to being a happy pilot and reliable navigation equipment is vital in your aircraft. Use your GPS.

A section of a the Livingstone WAC chart
A GPS is the standard tool for most pilots – South African and foreign – in southern Africa. Jeppesen’s “African International” database is the download needed for navigation. While it includes all major airfields, small bush lodge airstrips may not be shown. They are easily programmed into your own GPS. We’ll give you these coordinates for your destinations in your pre-departure briefings. 

It’s a good idea to bring your own portable GPS with the Atlantic International database. You know how it works and what buttons to push. There is a learning curve for working any “black box” GPS you’re not familiar with. Bringing your own reduces your cockpit workload. Nonetheless, when you arrive in South Africa we’ll loan you one of our portable GPS's with your route pre-programmed. We use several older hand-held models including Garmin 295, 495 and an Aera 500. Some brokered planes have panel-mounted GPS’s such as a Garmin 430 or 530. There is good signal coverage throughout southern Africa. Turn it on, do what it says, and fly to your next stop.

Tablets: We supply pilots with Easy Cockpit® - an electronic VFR moving map program for southern Africa designed for Android and iPad tablets. It was developed by the same company that produces the Airfields Directory for Southern Africa the only such publication that exists.  Both are included in the Self-Fly 
Safari® package. You can familiarize yourself with their materials on their web site:  Easy Cockpit® screen presentation is similar to ForeFlight but not identical and it works a little differently. ForeFlight is not suitable for our purposes as it doesn’t have a database for southern Africa. Bring your own tablet. It needs to have GPS capability.

While you’ll use a GPS, you’ll always want other options.

VOR’s exist and work at many major airfields in southern Africa. Within 50 - 70nm of aeronautical hubs in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, signal strength is good. However, VOR’s are often 100nm or more apart. You cannot fly seamlessly from one VOR to the next. All planes we use have two Navcoms, such as KX-125, KX-155, MX 300, or other.

There are also NDB’s (and local radio stations you can tune in). However, aeronautical NDB’s are being phased out and removed when they fail. Fewer and fewer aircraft have an Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) on board.  

ONC charts are the only paper charts
available for some areas of southern Africa.
Charts: You’ll also have paper charts with you – required by the CAA – as a backup. South Africa prints VFR WAC charts (1:1,000,000) covering much of southern Africa. The geography is good but the government has not updated aeronautical data on most charts for decades.  VFR charts for Zimbabwe, Zambia and points north are long out of print. For these areas we supply Defense Mapping Agency ONC charts (also now out of print). The geography and terrain features are accurate but they are unreliable for current airspace.

Featureless terrain is common
over much of southern Africa.
Situational awareness: It’s always important to know where you are. It’s a good idea to refresh your basic pilotage skills. Over reliance on a GPS can lull you into ignoring your progress along a leg of your trip. GPS is reliable in Africa. But if the screen suddenly goes blank – a dead battery or inadvertently pushing the wrong button – you still need to get where you’re going.

Lakes are useful visual checkpoints but
can dry up in the dry season.

Brushing up on map reading is also useful during your validation check flight. Your instructor may ask you to point out your current position on the aeronautical chart. Look out the window, notice a landmark, and point it out on the chart. He may simulate a problem ahead – say a thunderstorm – and ask you to divert to another airfield. In this scenario you need to know where you are more than where you were planning to go. Pilotage skills are useful.

Since my primary flight training I’ve drawn course lines on charts. I mark out 10nm segments and highlight visual reference points. Some pilots mark equal time 
segments. I keep a finger on the chart and note the time we arrive at each check point. Used in conjunction with the GPS there is very little guess work. If my GPS dies I’ll still have a good idea where I am and what I need to do to get where I’m going.


Friday, March 18, 2016

AIRCRAFT – Which plane should I use on my Self-Fly Safari?

The fleet of General Aviation aircraft available for rent in South Africa are older models with high air frame time. Their engines are all within TBO limits.  All are well maintained by the owners – who also fly them – and receive 50-hour, 100-hour and Annual inspections. All AD’s and SB’s are mandatory under South African CAA rules.

Planes are certified “airworthy” before leaving base. They all have two radios and long-range fuel tanks (79 gallons, 75 usable in 182's) for conservatively-estimated 5.5 hours endurance. With proper leaning they’ll go longer.  All have “steam gauges” (analog instrumentation). Privately-owned glass-cockpit aircraft exist in South Africa but have not yet been available for rent. Cirrus SR-20's and 22's are popular (there are more than 70 in the country) but are not let out privately. Single-engine Piper aircraft (Cherokee and Cherokee 6’s) are scarce on the rental market in South Africa. Low-wing aircraft are less suitable for aerial photography of scenes on the ground.

What plane is best for you?

To fly a South African-registered plane you need to have PIC time in the type of aircraft you will fly before arriving in South Africa. That’s the South African CAA rule. If you only have time in a C-182 you would not be allowed to fly a C-172 or any other type of plane - except a 182. Even one hour in the specific type (or an instructor’s sign-off in it) will make you legal. But, as well as being legal, you want to be current and comfortable flying it. If you haven’t flown it recently then log four or five hours in it before you come to Johannesburg. 

C-182: the standard bearer for bush flying
parties of 2 or 3.
Our experience is that a Cessna 182 is the best machine for a Self-Fly Safari. We own one and manage a second. When we need more – for group safaris – we go to other 182 owners. All the 182's – ours and outsourced ones – are older (P models, 1973 &1975).  

C-206 with cargo pod is
best for parties of 3 or 4.

A C-206 with a cargo pod is the ideal safari aircraft for parties of three or four. We have access to two such planes – both owner-flown and well maintained. The insurance companies insist on a minimum 50 hours in type and 500 hours total time to qualify to fly these C-206’s. With luggage in the cargo pod passenger seating is comfortable if not spacious.  
C-210: Often used when escorting groups and
for piloted Self-Fly Safaris.
A C-210 can also be used for a Self-Fly Safari with three or four people. We prefer the 206 in these situations for the simple reason that there are at least three fewer things to go wrong in a 206 (landing gear).The same experience requirements (50 hours type/500 hours total time) apply to qualify for insurance.

C-172: pilot and one passenger only.

A C-172 may be adequate for a Self-Fly Safari itinerary but comes with several shortcomings. Available 172’s in South Africa are mainly used as student trainers.  Compared with a C-182 the 172’s are slower, carry less fuel, are more cramped, have a lower load capability, often have just one radio and, cosmetically, look like well-used trainers.

Pilatus PC-12: smooth, fast, luxurious ride.
Larger aircraft: With a party of six or more for a safari, a larger aircraft is necessary.  In these scenarios a chartered Cessna Caravan or a Pilatus PC-12 may be just the right solution. This is also one option if you have lost your medical or given up day-to-day flying.

Cessna 208 Caravan:
plane of choice for parties of 6 - 10. 
A South African validated license is not required as the charter companies supply their own professional pilots. You’ll have the aircraft at your disposal and more flying options as the planes are faster, and carry the bigger load. You may be able to sit “right seat” and assist the pilot. Although there are no instrument let-down procedures at most bush air strips, the pilots are able to fly in IFR conditions and may be able to fly when VFR-only flights are delayed.

Whichever plane you fly the experience of flying the African bush is what it’s all about. Speed isn’t necessary. The legs aren’t that long. You’re here to fly. Remember “Out of Africa”. You have honed the skills of a pilot and you’re heading into new territory, new horizons, and a new adventure. ATC has different accents but the plane sounds familiar and reassuring. The plains below are dry and sometimes burned but pocked with watering holes and dotted with elephant, buffalo and other thirsty animals. The GPS guides you to your destination and you land on a dirt strip. You shut down and tie down. The rangers carry your bags and take you to the lodge and the adventure continues at camp. 


  Next time: Navigation – Finding your way on a Self-Fly Safari

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Lodges – What kind of places will I be staying at in the bush?

Belmond Eagle Island Camp

The terms “lodge” and “camp” are used interchangeably in southern Africa. They are privately-owned establishments and no two are alike.  Whichever ones you visit, two things are certain: 1) this not “rugged”; and 2) you won’t starve. Indeed, your accommodation will be first class and you’ll be offered good food and plenty of it! Kitchen and maintenance facilities and staff quarters are located away from the guest area. The entire camp may be surrounded by a fence or open to the surrounding bush.

The camp’s central lounge with couches and chairs is a great place to relax after lunch and after dinner. This is where guests gather for game drives, eating and drinking, and to relax. It usually overlooks a plain or watering hole where animals gather. You’ll find a small library of animal and bird books. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are always available.  The bar is open all day and, if it is not a self-service arrangement, someone from the staff is always available to give you a beer or pour you a drink. Offerings at afternoon tea, served just before the afternoon game drive, will include sweet and savory delicacies.
Discussions at dusk over drinks

Before embarking on a game drive, the ranger will take orders for “sundowners” – drinks that are served from the land rover at a scenic spot in the bush as the sun sets. For morning game drives you'll have a break for coffee, tea and snacks. 

Each lodge is comprised of eight or more individual chalets or tents within a larger compound. This is where you’ll park your luggage and sleep. Each has its own private bathroom with hot and cold running water and toilet. 

Tented accommodation
Tents are large, canvas walk-in, officer-style accommodations built on a cement slab or raised off the ground on a wooden platform. Windows and doors are covered with mosquito netting  and canvas flaps that can be opened or zipped-closed to block light or a breeze. Tents may be placed under a tree and have a shade canopy to keep them cooler during the heat of the day.
A desert chalet
Chalets are similar but built with brick and mortar and normal wooden doors and windows. Thatch roofs are common. Both styles often have a private deck or patio off your room where you can sit outdoors to read or watch activity in the surrounding bush. Some camps have private plunge pools at every chalet.

Interior chalet

Rooms are furnished in the camps’ own unique style with charm and guest comfort in mind. Each will have two twin-size beds, a small table, chairs, a closet and drawers for your clothing, light fixtures, a sink, private shower and toilet. You’ll have clean linens for the beds, pillows, blankets, towels and wash cloths.
Interior tent
Staff members make the beds and clean the rooms daily. Rooms are supplied with basic toiletries, mosquito repellant and bug spray. Each bed is likely to be draped with its own mosquito net. One or two-day laundry service is available, often free-of-charge.  

All camps have electrical power. Most run on
12-volt systems powered by solar panels or a generator that is run only during the day when guests are away from camp on game a drive. The camp will have a centrally located “charging station” where guests recharge cameras, GPS’s and other electronic devices. Room lighting allows guests to read at night.  A few camps have main-line electrical power (240 volts, 50 Hz). Here you can use hairdryers, curling irons and other high-draw appliances that cannot be used at other camps.

The lodges are magical!  Each is different from the last and each is charming in its own way. Service and attention to the guests is paramount. Rangers are enthusiastic and persevering in their efforts to locate elusive game. Cooks take pride in the meals they prepare.  Room maids are courteous and thorough in their work. At some camps the entire staff treats guests to traditional songs and dance performances and invites guests to join in the fun. Bush camps in southern Africa are a delightful experience to be long remembered.

Pamushana Lodge at night